The UK Government has today, 4 May, delivered on its pledge to reduce the fee of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) from the hefty price of £140 to just £5. The GRC means that for certain things that are controlled by law (such as pensions, marriage and prisons) you may be treated as the gender of your birth certificate regardless of your actual gender identity. Gender recognition allows you to change your legal gender from male to female or from female to male. Here’s everything you need to know about the recent change and how it will impact transgender citizens.
In response to recent consultation on the Gender Recognition Act, the minister for women and equalities, Liz Truss, decided upon modernising the process of applying for a GRC, reducing the price being one big change—as data had shown from the National LGBTQ survey, the price of application in the past, was one issue holding transgender people back from obtaining their GRA.
As publicly announced by Truss, “In the National LGBT Survey, 34% of transgender people told us that the cost of applying for a certificate was holding them back from doing so. Today we have removed that barrier, and I am proud that we have made the process of getting a certificate fairer, simpler and much more affordable.”
The existing rules state that to legally change one’s gender, a two-year waiting period is still required as well as a review by a specialist panel, and the additional £5 fee. Many LGBT campaigners still believe that the current system needs to change further, and have called for it to be replaced entirely with a simpler declaration and self-identification system instead. The application process is also due to be moved online, saving travel and unnecessary complications as well. That being said, there is a price to paperwork—even if the fee is £5, trans people will still be paying for gender changes on the documentation such as birth and marriage certificates.
Cara English, the Head of Public Engagement at trans awareness charity Gendered Intelligence said that the process still needs to be made “less invasive,” and that “Anyone applying for a GRC is still going to need to get a statutory declaration overseen by a solicitor, which can cost from £5 anywhere up to as much as £200,” she told inews, continuing that “there are medical reports from doctors and surgeons detailing any and all healthcare interventions taken to date are prepared at cost, and then shared with a panel of strangers who judge your application.”
Since 2005, a total of 5,871 GRCs have been granted, according to the latest official figures. The government has also estimated that there are somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000 transgender people in the UK.
While the government is taking its first baby steps in making the process easier and cheaper, which in turn will welcome more applicants, there is still a lot more than needs to be done. Lee Clatworthy from national transgender charity Sparkle told the BBC that the process remains “overly long-winded” and a reduction in cost “won’t compel more to apply.”
Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, UK adults can legally change their gender if they meet certain criteria. They are required to declare that they will live permanently in their acquired gender, they need a medical report of a gender dysphoria diagnosis and a medical report of any hormone treatment or surgery, including any planned treatments. They must also provide evidence that they have lived full time in their acquired gender for at least two years, such as copies of their passport and driving licence, and be over the age of 18.
The recent changes to the Gender Recognition Act bill will not affect laws in Northern Ireland, and Scotland will also make its own decisions. Much of the debate surrounding the decisions that are due to be made are in regards to women-only spaces such as toilets, changing rooms, domestic violence refuges and prisons. Under the Equality Act 2010, no one should be discriminated against because they are transgender, and legally changing your gender may still not guarantee entry to these single sex spaces.
This is a fundamentally an incremental system within society today, and one that is (in the grand scheme of things) only just beginning to gain momentum, which means big changes are due to happen regardless of the government’s timelines. For now, I’m looking forward to seeing the changes unfurl.
We previously saw how the internet’s binary code affects the way we see and express gender online. But, as you probably already know, controversy over gender identity is not confined to the web. A simple Google search of the keyword ‘non-binary’ will pull out more than enough articles proving just how strong the divide is.
While the rest of us argue over discriminatory laws and an overall non-inclusive society, other cultures have been introduced to and have, in turn, accepted non-binary gender identities for centuries! For them, the concept of someone not identifying strictly as male or female was just not that hard to grasp.
Here are 10 cultures that have shown throughout history that non-binary gender is far from new.
In traditional Samoan culture, boys born into male bodies who identify as female are known as ‘Fa’afafines’. They are fully accepted into the Samoan culture. Fa’afafines’ roles in society move fluidly between the traditional male and female. While they’re assigned male at birth, Samoa also recognises ‘Fa’afatamas’—an equally fluid gender for those assigned female at birth.
“Gender roles, even sexual desire, are shaped to suit society. That means gender identity is often hugely shaped by culture. Being a woman in Samoa is quite different from being a woman in Western society,” explained a woman in a National Geographic video on sexual identity in Samoan culture.
In Samoan culture, gender identity is as simple as it gets—if you say and feel you are neither male or female, or that you fluctuate between both genders, this will simply be accepted by society. This is a social norm that the rest of the world could really learn from.
For many native North American cultures, transgender individuals are known as “two-spirit.” Identifying with masculinity as well as femininity, two-spirit people are often said to contain both male and female ‘spirits’. They’re often revered in their communities, seen as a channel between the physical and spiritual.
For Zuni, a native American tribe, the term for a two-spirited person is ‘lhamana’. We’wha—the most famous lhamana was born in male body—wore a mixture of men’s and women’s clothing.
We’wha spent time performing ‘women’s tasks’ such as cooking, gathering food, and serving as a mediator in the Zuni tribe in what is now New Mexico. Anthropologists, authors, and even US President Grover Cleveland were “utterly charmed” by We’wha’s intelligence and understanding of the world.
We’wha was not even close to the only “two-spirit” native North American. Many other tribes have their own terms for a tribe member living in one body but who has the spirit of more than one person.
In the small town of Juchitán de Zaragoza in southern Oaxaca State, Mexico, live the ‘muxes’—people born in a male’s body but who identify as neither female nor male. Muxes are part of ancient culture and are well-known in the town.
Traditionally, muxes would be admired for their talent in embroidery, hairstyling, cooking, and craft work. However, Naomy Mendez Romero, who shared photographs and her story with The New York Times, is an industrial engineer—challenging limits on muxes by entering a career path more often viewed as male.
The bathroom controversy has disrupted life for muxes only slightly, causing a taunting from men in the community. “Me, use a boy’s bathroom? No.” Romero said, shrugging off the idea of switching stalls after years as a woman.
In Madagascar, the Sakalava people recognised a third gender called ‘Sekrata’. Boys in Sakalava communities who exhibit traditionally feminine behaviour or personalities are raised by parents as girls from a very young age.
Instead of labelling these boys as ‘gay’, they are seen as having a male body and identifying as a female. Sexual preference is not a factor for the Sakalava and raising a child in this third gender is natural and widely accepted in the community’s social fabric.
Balkan ‘sworn virgins’ are women who take a vow of chastity and wear male clothing in order to live as men in patriarchal Northern Albanian society, Kosovo and Montenegro. To a lesser extent, the practice exists, or has previously existed, in other parts of the western Balkans, including Bosnia, Dalmatia (Croatia), Serbia and Macedonia.
By taking on this identity, sworn virgins are elevated to the status of a man, entitled to the rights and privileges of the patriarchy. National Geographic’s documentary TV series Taboo (aired in 2002) estimated at that time that there were fewer than 102 Albanian sworn virgins left.
The centuries-old third gender, associated with sacred powers, usually refers to those assigned male at birth but don’t identify as such. In 2014, India legally recognised hijras as a third gender after they were criminalised by the British in 1871.
Hijras have their own ancient language—Hijras Farsi and served monarchs in South Asian regions for centuries. Today, they are primarily outsiders in their communities, excluded from many economic opportunities.
In spite of marginalisation from the rest of the world, whom they refer to as “dunya daar” the Hijras preserve their own language and culture where gender knows no boundaries.
Officially recognised as a third gender in Nepal in 2007, metis have a long history in the Himalayan region. Assigned male at birth, they assume a traditional feminine appearance. Nepal set a global precedent with a third gender category on official documents.
One of the dozen or more common gender identities in Thailand, ‘toms’ are women who adopt masculine mannerisms and style, while using male speech terms. Toms are often attracted to ‘dees’—women who follow traditional Thai gender norms.
Used by Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, brotherboys describes people with a gender experience inconsistent with their assigned sex, with a male spirit and male roles in the community. Sistergirls are the exact opposite.
This ethnic group has seen gender as a spectrum for centuries now, with three additional genders in addition to male and female. Bugis genders include ‘calabai’ (feminine men), ‘calalai’ (masculine women) and intersex ‘bissu’ priests.
While far from being completely all-inclusive, this list goes to show that non-binary concepts of gender are not a recent phenomenon. It’s important to illustrate that binary gender is not ‘normal’, but rather, one perception out of many. In fact, in comparison, the concept of a gender and sexual binary is fairly recent, and not the other way around. Colonisation largely is to blame for that idea.